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Do Saints Suspensions Leave The NFC South Wide Open For Atlanta?

Although the league-wide theme for the NFL offseason has been "weird things keep happening" since the beginning of March (Tebow plays where?), at least one thing has gone as expected: the New Orleans Saints got hit hard by Roger Goodell's ban-hammer on Wednesday (the general reaction of Who Dat Nation can be found here).

While the fines and Loomis' suspension won't mean too much (NoLa's GM will still be around all offseason), Sean Payton's year-long suspension is absolutely huge. Tack on the loss of two second-round draft picks and consider the player discipline that's yet to come, and all of a sudden 2012 has gone from bad to worse for the Saints.

Meanwhile, we have the Atlanta Falcons sitting quietly in the corner, hungrily staring at the NFC South crown that the Saints organization has essentially pissed away. Isn't that convenient?

First of all, I'm not here to argue whether Payton's punishment was fair. If Commander Roger felt like Payton deserved a year to mull things over, so be it. The team clearly violated league policy and more importantly really hurt the family-friendly image that Goodell and the NFL tries so hard to sell.

But with the loss of both a talented head coach and an intimidating play-caller, the Saints have really hurt their stock in 2012. Sure, Steve Spagnuolo would be by all means a very capable short term replacement as head coach. But also remember that the Rams won a combined 10 games in three seasons under Spags. I'm not too impressed.

Couple that with the personnel hit New Orleans has taken this year. The loss of this year's second-round draft pick means the Saints can't take a player until the third round (pick no. 81). They've lost Carl Nicks, Robert Meachem and Tracy Porter to free agency. Oh, and player suspension (such as LB Jonathan Vilma) are soon to come down from Goodell as well.

There's even a chance that Drew Brees might not play for the team next season. After being franchise tendered earlier this month, Brees made it painfully clear that signing the tag was not in his future plans. With that in mind, consider this: if Brees was even just unsure about agreeing to the franchise tag before finding out he'd be lacking his head coach for the entire year, what would make him want to sign it now?

Here in Atlanta, we know exactly what offseason scandals can do, and how harshly they affect the locker room and quality of play. This is a Saints team that, even under the best of circumstances, still should take a noticeable step back from last year's 13-win campaign.

With two new coordinators and a Falcons team that's pretty darn similar to the one that won 10 games last year, the NFC South is ripe for Mike Smith's crew to take it right back.

What's that? The Buccaneers signed Vincent Jackson you say? Well, Josh Freeman is still their quarterback and the team is still very young. The Panthers signed Mike Tolbert, you say? Well, their horrid defense from last season is almost exactly the same.

And regardless of whichever way you choose to analyze or moralize over the Saints and their "bounty-gate" scandal this offseason, it can only mean positive things for the Atlanta Falcons.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic, and for the Saints head over to Canal Street Chronicles. For free agency, bounty-gate and Tebowmania, head over to SB Nation's NFL hub page.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.